The long golden ringlets, the rock-star poses and the microphone-stand strut are still the same. But the songs don't remain the same when Robert Plant sings them.
The voice of Led Zeppelin brought his solo tour to the sold-out State Theatre in Minneapolis Tuesday. There was no bare chest, "Stairway to Heaven" or Jimmy Page. This was the 62-year-old British rock god's continuing exploration of American music, with an emphasis on the rootsy Americana of his 2010 album "Band of Joy." There were a handful of Zeppelin songs, but they were re-imagined to fit his current, no-earplugs-necessary but still essential sound.
The 105-minute concert was tremendously exciting, not in a rock 'n' roll thrilling kind of way but in an artful, deeply enriching, adventurously musical kind of way. While playing with probably the quietest drummer in his plugged-in career, Plant led an all-star American band that was organic and refreshing. Adept at the blues, bluegrass and Bob Dylan, they also mixed in Eastern, Indo-jazz and world-music elements.
The MVP had to be Buddy Miller, whose guitar was equally edgy and eerie. Darrell Scott offered a spice-rack full of seasonings on mandolin, banjo and other stringed instruments. Patty Griffin's voice provided the perfect contrast to Plant's, whether high and lonesome or mournfully soulful. Vocally, this concert was more about close harmonies than preternatural wails, more about nuance than power. The Golden God did cut loose once or twice (noticeably on Zep's "Ramble On") but he was more about heartfelt singing, delivering the haunting, spiritual "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down" and a backwoods harmonic moan on Zep's "Black Country Women."
The lyrics of the five Zeppelin numbers were familiar but not the musical treatments. The opening "Black Dog" was an undulating swamp excursion with wah-wah guitar while "Tangerine" became a pedal-steel-kissed plaint. The slowly building "House of the Holy" was less memorable than Richard Thompson's "House of Cards," with its Eastern meets Appalachia construction. That and other "Band of Joy" numbers made the night, especially "Silver Rider" by the Duluth band Low. It started with seductive sweetness and evolved into a languidly dreamy piece, with undertones of surf guitar and orchestral harmonies. It sounded like an American answer to the mystical magic that Plant made with his old band.
For a set list: www.startribune.com/artcetera Jon Bream • 612-673-1719 Twitter: @jonbream